Operation PUSH Joins Fight to Stop Renaissance 2010 Plan

The fight to stop Mayor Richard Daley’s radical privatization plan to close as many public schools as possible and replace them with 100 "new schools" (most of them charter schools) received a boost in the African American community when Rainbow PUSH joined the fight.

Students, teachers and parents from Holmes and Carpenter elementary schools join Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. at Operation PUSH on March 21, 2009. Substance photo by Jim Vail.“It’s a dangerous plan,” the Reverend Jesse Jackson told Substance after an Operation PUSH meeting on Saturday, March 21, 2009. “It’s excluding kids from the neighborhood with no measurable effects in achievement. I agree that there should be a moratorium to stop this.”

The Jackson family is the most powerful African American contingent to join the fight against Renaissance 2010. Jesse Jackson, who once ran for President and is the most highly visible human rights leader in the African-American community today, has one son, Jesse Jackson, Jr. who is a U.S. Congressman. Congressman Jackson has considered running for Mayor. Another son Yusef runs a lucrative Anheuser-Busch beer distributorship in Chicago.

Operation PUSH leader Jonathan Jackson (above at podium) told the February 25, 2009, Chicago Board of Education meeting that the school closings, phase outs, consolidations and turnarounds under the Board's "Renaissance 2010" plan should be halted. Jackson's pleas -- along with those of thousands of others -- were ignored when the Board voted February 25 to close, consolidate, phase out, and "turnaround" 16 more Chicago public schools. By the time of the March 2009 Board meeting, on March 25, 2009, Jackson's father and brother (the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Congressman Jesse Jackson) had joined at Operation PUSH in opposing Renaissance 2010. Despite the massive community opposition to what the majority of leaders in Chicago's black community now recognize as a land grab and an attack on the public schools serving black children, the Chicago Board of Education voted at its March 25 meeting to give away another ten public schools to privatized charter and other experimental schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.It is son Jonathan Jackson, the national spokesperson for Rainbow PUSH, who decided to go to bat to help save Chicago public schools from the Renaissance plan which some observers say has its sights on putting half of the 600 Chicago public schools in private hands.

A 'land grab like the Olympics

“This is a land grab like the Olympics,” Jonathan Jackson said. “They’re building this b ig facility for someone to play in and we can’t participate."

Last year 25 schools were closed. This year 16 were either closed, phased out, consolidated or labeled "turnaround." Six schools were taken off what opponents of Renaissance 2010 call the "Hit List" due to the massive organizing efforts of CORE, a powerful grassroots caucus in the Chicago Teacher’s Union that worked with community groups, students and parents to protest the closings. As a result of the CORE organizing work, a grassroots community coalition called GEM (for "Grass-roots Education Movement") has been formed, consisting of more than a dozen community based organizations and the Chicago Teachers Union.

Holmes Elementary Fight Against 'Turnaround' Helps Persuade Jonathan Jackson

Jonathan Jackson said he joined the fight against Renaissance 2010 when he saw a sign that read “Save Our School” hanging outside the window of the Holmes Elementary School library while he drove down Garfield Boulevard from the airport.

Holmes, at 955 W. Garfield Blvd., was placed on the original "Hit List" for 2009 by Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan, prior to Duncan's being appointed U.S. Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama.

“I’m here to support Carpenter School, South Chicago Elementary and all schools who are on the Board of Education hit list,” Jason Hall, a 6th grader from Holmes school, told the Operation PUSH crowd on Saturday, March 21, 2009. Substance photo.Jonathan Jackson said he stopped and asked at Holmes what the sign meant. He then joined the Holmes fight, and later it was announced the school would not be a turnaround. In the Board of Education's "Turnaround" program, every employee in the building was to be fired because of low test scores. Jonathan Jackson said he began to oppose the turnaround of Holmes due to compelling public testimony on the strengths of the school.

“I saw the sign that said the school was closing and I said what could I do,” Jackson told Substance.

Jackson takes opposition to February 25, 2009, Board of Education meeting

Jackson first spoke at the Board of Education meeting last month in which board members voted after public testimony to close the 16 schools. He was the most visible community leader to denounce the Renaissance plan at the Board meeting. Despite several claims that they would show up, no aldermen spoke at the February Board meeting to defend the schools in their wards against closing and "turnarounds" in their wards. This was despite the nearly unanimous opposition to the closings, phase outs, consolidations and "turnarounds" at the grass roots level.

Jonathan Jackson noted in his speech to the Board that Chicago is now the most dangerous city in the nation, and that the school closings have helped to further increase violence in the city. After Calumet, Austin and Englewood high schools were closed between 2004 and 2008 (forcing their students to go to other public high schools, after in many cases having to travel great distances) under the Renaissance 2010 plan, the schools that received the overflow of new students saw violence skyrocket in their schools.

This was mostly due to Chicago's enormous drug gang problem, which has gone unchecked under the administration of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Jonathan Jackson then invited the closing schools to his Operation PUSH meetings and pledged his support.

Holmes Elementary School student Jason Hall (above, reading from his notes) spoke out on March 21 at the hearing on the proposal to give the Carpenter Elementary School building to the "Ogden International High School" and at the Operation PUSH meeting the following day. Nevertheless, on March 25, the Chicago Board of Education voted to approve the proposal to terminate Carpenter Elementary School (through "phase out") and give its building to the "Ogden High School" which was hastily re-named "Ogden International School" when it became a "K-12" school. At the March 12 meeting, the Board of Education also voted to give away other public school buildings to untested boutique "new schools" and charter schools. Among those buildings given away were the old McKinley High School (at 2040 W. Adams), which will be taken over by Noble Street Charter Schools, a private corporation, and South Chicago Elementary School (at 8255 S. Houston), which will be given to a small high school project called "EPIC." In most cases where the schools were closed, then flipped into private hands, local school officials (and often the entire community) were kept in the dark about the Board of Education's true plans through a series of lies, half truths, and manipulations of public meetings and so-called "hearings." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.“I’m here to support Carpenter School, South Chicago Elementary and all schools who are on the Board of Education hit list,” Jason Hall, a 6th grader from Holmes school, told the Operation PUSH crowd on Saturday, March 21, 2009.

“I know how hurtful it is to know that your school and teachers will be taken away," Hall continued. "You see my school Holmes was recently on this hit list, and we had your support and you fought for us. And now thank you God we are off this unfair list. Please help stop this madness!”

Will "Soto Bill" stop closings for this school year?

What will be interesting to watch is how this fight shapes up at the top. State Representative Cynthia Soto introduced a bill in the House to put a one-year moratorium on all school closings, phase-outs, consolidations and turnarounds until a special joint facilities education subcommittee is formed that is comprised of state representatives and senators who will take input from the community stakeholders such as local school councils, parents, teachers and the community. CPS has been lobbying hard to stop this bill that appears to have enough support to pass the House of Representatives after a few amendments were made and then head to the Senate. If it passes the Senate, the Governor would then have to sign the bill into law.

City Council waffling on school closings, changes

Following the "New Schools" hearing that most community leaders denounced, students from Carpenter Elementary School (above left) joined students from Holmes Elementary School (above right) in a candlelight march from the site of the hearings at 1615 W. Chicago Ave. back to Carpenter at 1250 W. Erie. The march, which covered a mile on the city's northwest side, was ignored by Chicago's corporate media, just as the Operation PUSH opposition to Renaissance 2010 has been ignored. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.On the local level, a recent City Council education committee hearing heard testimony from new CPS Chief Ron Huberman and newly reappointed Board of Ed President Michael Scott about the public schools.

Despite the wide-spread protests against the Renaissance plan, not one alderman asked either Chicago public school official about the Renaissance plan. However, Education Committee Chair Latasha Thomas said there will be hearings on the Renaissance 2010 plan, but she is "not sure" if they will be open to public participation. Several Chicago aldermen have called the Education Committee chair to express their interest in public hearings.

Ald. Thomas said she had problems with a plan that replaces neighborhood schools with charters that do not guarantee space for all the local kids, and relies on corporate funding — via the so-called "Renaissance Schools Fund." Private funding can be very precarious since the funding can disappear at any moment given that corporate supporters' "bottom line" comes first.

But even if the Soto bill passes and becomes law, it would be almost impossible to reverse the damage done this year and stop the schools that have already been closed. It is also only a one-year "moratorium."

Focus on ending mayoral dictatorship or on 'band aid' solutions?

Many say the focus should be on repealing the Amendatory Act, which in 1995 handed Mayor Daley almost total control of the Chicago public schools, and end the Renaissance Plan.

Since that time, Chicago has been the national leader in privatizing public education. Now the rest of the country is watching closely. President Barrack Obama, who supports charter schools, named former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan his Education Secretary.

Until now, no high-profile public figure has jumped into the fight to stop the city’s Renaissance privatization plan. Rainbow PUSH has been involved in the fight against school closings when they supported Abbott School last year and the school was taken off the list. However, this year Abbott was put back on the list and was closed.

“We were fighting for Abbott which is a very good school and they said it was underutilized,” said Bonita Carr, national education director for Rainbow PUSH. “But this is not true because then they put in a charter school which is also underutilized.”

Jonathan Jackson championed the cause to support the closing schools, although he as well as his father, did not single out the culprits to blame — namely Mayor Richard Daley and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago that wrote the Renaissance plan. The vagueness continued at Operation Rainbow PUSH headquarters last week.

"Fixing blame" and solving problems

“I don’t fix the blame, I just fix the problem,” Jonathan Jackson said. “But now they’re blaming the teachers and I know public schools work because I went to a Chicago public school.”

Critics have said Operation PUSH has done nothing in the past to stop a privatization plan that has taken aim at the black community by closing many African-American schools, destroying 2,000 black teacher (and principal and other school union) jobs, and allowing the new schools to be exempt from the de-segregation decrees that grew out of the black civil rights fight that Jesse Jackson joined up with almost 50 years ago.

“We’re a national organization that has dealt with so many different issues,” Jonathan Jackson said. “Now we’re ready to fight this. I want to join you and everyone else out there to fight this and save our schools.”

And so far, it appears the younger Jackson is serious and wants the world to know Rainbow Push is serious about fighting the good fight to stop the Renaissance Plan and save public education. 

Final SubstanceNews posting March 27, 2009, 5:00 a.m. Please credit if you wish to republish this story in whole or in part, including the following: "Copyright 2009 Substance, Inc. Reprinted with permission."


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